Archive for the 'Tenants' Category

Minneapolis Duplex Owners Should Head For The Basement

said on July 23rd, 2009 categorized under: Tenants

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real airport weather mapThe Minnesota Multi-Housing Association should hire Belinda Jensen.

I don’t think she knows a thing about renting or owning duplexes. But I think a storm’s a comin’, and somebody needs to forecast it.

So I will.

There’s a tornado on the horizon for Minneapolis/St Paul duplex owners and landlords.

It’s a great big, dark, ominous-looking vacancy rate resulting from the $8000 first time home buyer tax credit.

I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve spoken with in open houses and general conversations who a) are planning on taking advantage of the tax credit and b) are on month-to-month leases.

As the tax credit expires November 30, 2009, how many move-out notices do you think landlords will receive on October 30?

I’m guessing about 17 inches worth.

While it’s always wise to keep your tenant’s leases current, it is especially important to make sure you have them under contract now.

If you don’t, I’m predicting a long, cold winter.

Comments Off on Can A Tenant Keep You From Getting the Tax Credit On Your Minneapolis Tax Credit?

flying 100 dollarA reader recently asked a terrific question regarding the $8000 first time home buyer tax credit:

I have been recently considering a duplex as an option for my first home purchase. From I understand, the $8000 tax credit can be used for the part of the primary residence. For instance, a two-unit duplex at cost of $160k would yield the $8000 credit if I used one unit as the primary residence. What I have yet find an answer to is this: Let’s say the duplex is fully leased. You cannot force one tenant to move so in order to occupy one unit you would have to not renew one lease. If this is true and both tenants are leased through 2009 (and say until March of 2010) would you still qualify for the credit even though at the end of the tax year you would not be occupying the residence?

To be sure I had the correct I answer, I contacted Melanie Schlomann, a CPA with the firm of Abdo, Eich and Meyers.  “The home must be the taxpayers primary residence before December 1, 2009 to be eligible for the first time home buyer tax credit,” she said.

“In this case, the individual would not qualify unless they can manage to make the duplex their primary residence by that time.”

Whether you intend to owner occupy a duplex or simply purchase it as in investment, existing leases are an important consideration when you buy.

In order to address the afore-mentioned possibility, many duplex owners considering a potential sale of their property make sure to put a buy-out clause in their leases. This clause states that for a pre-determined fee, the tenant will agree to move if asked to do so as part of the sale of the property. Of course, it’s important to consult with an attorney for the appropriate language to use in the lease.

While negotiating a purchase, it may be worth asking whether or not the tenant is interested or willing to leave before the lease comes to an end.  If he knows he has to relocate in the not too distant future anyway, perhaps a win can be negotiated for all involved.

A buyer and her Realtor should also explore whether or not the city or state involved has any laws or ordinances pertaining to exactly this scenario.

While I don’t know of any Minnesota municipalities where this is the case (and would love to know if there are), the city of West Hollywood, California, for example, has a tenant relocation “through no fault of their own for owner or relative occupancy” ordinance, with a pre-determined set of move-out compensation for the dislocated tenant.

Great question!

Let Oprah Help You Become A Better Landlord

said on January 5th, 2009 categorized under: Tenants

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When Oprah Winfrey retires, pundits will cite the countless ways in which she influenced American culture and expanded our lexicon. One of the words sure to be mentioned in reviews is sure to be “boundaries”.
So how does this apply to owning a Twin Cities duplex? Well, one of the questions new landlords most often ask is my opinion on renting to friends. And frankly, Oprah is as close as I can come to offering a scientific answer.
I’ve had positive experiences renting to friends, as well as disastrous ones. I’ve even had to take a friend to court when she skipped town without paying four months of rent or for the considerable damage her dog had done to the apartment’s woodwork.
Four months rent? How did I let her get that far behind? Hey, she was my friend. She would get caught up with me like she promised, right? And in the years we’d known one another, she had bailed me out of a jam or two. I kind of figured I owed her.
Of course, she didn’t make a single payment until I took legal action. To her credit, once in court, she did come up with a payment plan and honor it. Needless to say, however, I lost the friend.
I’ve rented to friends since. But I do it differently now. I’ve learned to separate business from friendship and, by watching and hearing about enough Oprah shows, set boundaries. I treat all tenants the same, regardless of their personal relationship to me. Many tenants have become my friends, and the same principles apply.
Even if a friend turns out to be a terrific tenant, it’s important to know your duties and obligations as a landlord. For example, you’re responsible for health and safety repairs to the unit. However, if your friend asks you to install a $300 light fixture because you’re “buds” and it “would look great”, you are under no obligation to do so. They’ll try. Believe me.
How do you protect yourself and maintain the friendship? By sticking to the mantra, “No is a complete sentence”. 
Example? “You want a new light fixture? Uh, no. How’s work, by the way?”
You’d be amazed at how well it works.

Comments Off on How to Rent That Minneapolis Duplex Fast!

It seems new investors and first-time home buyers have two big concerns about their first duplex: vacancies and the toilet.
Vacancies are a concern of any landlord. The longer a unit sits empty, the more significant the loss in revenue, and the more it costs you, the landlord.
So, how do you reduce vacancies?
While it may seem obvious, your first strategy is to buy a property in an area where people want to live. Think of the amenities you might want for yourself in a home. Do you like woodwork? Do you need a dishwasher? Access to laundry? Do you need easy access to public transportation?
Also consider the types of tenants a property might attract. For example, more bedrooms may be attractive to families; or, if near a university, a group of students. One bedroom units, on the other hand, will appeal to single people or young couples.
A fresh coat of paint and a clean, well-maintained property will always rent more quickly than those that are not. Try to make your vacant unit shine when compared to those of the competition. This doesn’t mean you need granite counter tops- just well-kept, clean, and reasonably updated.
While all of these are useful and important strategies, there is one more; the most effective of all. Lower the rent.
This is a common new landlord mistake; one I’ve made myself. It’s easy to look at competitor’s ads on Craigslist and decide your unit is superior, or to base the amount you charge for the unit on the cash you “need”.
But, but… yeah, I know. You really have to have $1000 a month for that two bedroom unit with hardwood floors. So, instead of renting it at $900, you hold out for your price. It doesn’t rent. Two months later, you lower the rent to $900 and it fills. So, while you held out, you lost two months of revenue at $900, for a total of $1800; all in the name of getting $2000. In the name of getting a whopping $200 more, you lost $1800.
Yeah, I know. It seemed logical to me at the time too.

Comments Off on How Much Is Too Much For A Security Deposit in My Minneapolis Duplex?

When I lived in California, moving into a rental unit required almost as much in a down payment as buying a house. Landlords often asked for not only the first month’s rent, but the last and an additional security deposit.
In Minnesota, however, it seems to be the rule rather than the exception for landlords to ask for a security deposit equal in amount to one month of rent. To a tenant, this figure represents their last month of rent; creating the misperception that he or she doesn’t owe anything for his last month of tenancy.
As a result, landlords are often faced with the task of explaining to a vacating tenant that their deposit was meant to cover damages and any required repairs, as well as unpaid rent, upon move-out.
Is there a legal limit as to the amount a landlord may require as a security deposit? Not according to Minnesota law. Of course, any duplex owner needs to also be mindful that an excessive amount may cause prospective tenants to choose another property as their home.
It is interesting to not, however, that if a lease is a periodic tenancy, meaning it has no final date mentioned, the security deposit may be increased at any time. Of course, the tenant must be given advanced written notice. On the other hand, if a lease has a definite end date, the security deposit may not be increased.
At the end of the tenancy, the landlord must return the deposit, along with interest, to the tenants. Of course, unpaid rent and any amount necessary to repair damage or pay other debts related to the tenant’s residency may be retained.
Tenants who moved in after August 1, 2003 should be paid one percent interest per year of residency. Tenants who moved in earlier receive much greater interest payments. If residency began between August 1, 1973 and September 30, 1984, tenants receive 5 percent interest. If move0n was between October 1, 1984 and April 30, 1992, it’s 5.5 percent. Between May 1, 1992 and March 21, 1996, residents receive 4 percent interest on their deposits. And those moving in between March 22, 1996 and July 31, 2003 receive 3 percent interest.

Comments Off on The Tenants Will Leave If They Know My Minneapolis Duplex Is For Sale!

Sellers often worry tenants will leave if they become aware a property is on the market. However, not only does the existing lease protect the tenant, it is also a means of ensuring he stays.
A lease follows a property when it is sold. What does that mean?
Well, when a buyer purchases a duplex occupied by tenants with current leases, she assumes the terms and conditions of the existing leases. As a result, the tenant also retains all the rights and privileges afforded him under the previous owner’s lease.
Of course, once that lease expires, the new owner can replace it with a lease of her own, or ask the tenants to vacate (in accordance with state law, of course).
What if the new owner wants to move in? This can be accomplished if the buyer specified some portion or the entire property be delivered vacant, and the seller agreed to the terms.
How is this achieved? Most often, sellers offer a tenant a financial incentive to vacate. How much? To date, there are no guidelines for this in the state of Minnesota.
It is interesting to note, however, in other parts of the country, this is a rather common occurrence.
In fact, in some rent-controlled cities like West Hollywood, Calif., tenants may not be relocated unless either the new owner or a relative of the owner’s is planning to move in. What’s more, there are set guidelines as to how much that will cost. In a one bedroom unit, a tenant must be paid $7200; an amount that increases to $12,800 for a three bedroom.
While that may be in our future, to date, relocation fees here are still negotiable.

Ask Santa to Help Eliminate Vacancies in Your Minneapolis Duplex

said on November 26th, 2008 categorized under: Tenants

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Although sometimes it seems Halloween marks the start of the holiday season, most of us still think of the Thanksgiving holiday as the big kickoff. It must be something about seeing Santa at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that awakens the urge to sing carols and go shopping.
While most of us think and worry about taking care of the family and friends on our holiday gift-giving lists, I’ve found also including tenants can be an easy and inexpensive way to help reduce my turnover rate.
Now I’m not saying you have to entice someone to stay with a plasma TV. After all, the Minneapolis and St Paul rental vacancy rates are finally below 5 percent; skewing decidedly in the landlord’s favor. Just think of who your tenants are, and keep it simple.
In one property, my tenants were predominantly young single professionals just starting their careers. I gave them each a $10 gift card to iTunes. They were not only surprised, but commented they had never had a landlord give them anything; ever.
In another building, my residents tended to be an older, more blue collar crowd. For them I alternated; giving gift cards to Cub Foods one year, and Wal Mart another. Again, the universal response was one of surprise and gratitude.
However, it’s important to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah. I’ve had residents of every religious persuasion. Therefore, when I purchase cards I make sure they express a general holiday wish, rather than one of a specific belief or tradition.
Yes, money’s tight for everyone right now; an additional expenditure the last thing any of us want. But a $10 gift card that might help someone feel welcome in your property is a much smaller investment than the cost of a vacancy.
Have a safe and happy holiday!

1 Comment »


A relatively new landlord contacted me earlier in the week and asked some terrific questions.
In an effort to have the other side of her unit occupied before the first mortgage payment came due, she rented to someone with less than perfect credit. Just five months into the lease, the tenant was already late on one month’s rent. While the gas, phone and electric are in her tenants names, she’s certain they are also behind in some of these bills.
While the tenant has stable employment and worked with her to make amends on the late rent, he’s uncertain how he should approach the potential utility delinquencies. A friend suggested he contact the utility companies to check whether the bills have been paid on time.
What, if anything, can she do?
The answer is, not a lot. Maybe.
According to Xcel Energy, provided it’s delineated in the lease that the tenant is responsible for the utilities, the landlord is absolved from any obligation to pay these bills. Of all the utilities involved in living in a property, it is only the water bill that follows the property. The rest follow the person whose name they were in.
What’s more, sharing the current status of payments with an unrelated third party is a violation of most utility companies privacy policies.
There is, of course, an exception. If the lease contains a clause stating falling behind in utility payments is a violation, the tenant and property owner may mutually sign a third party notification letter. This letter is then sent to the respective utility companies. In the event the tenant falls behind, it is mailed to the landlord at his service address. If the letter is not pre-signed by both parties, it cannot be sent.
It is important to note that the standard lease available through the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association does not contain a third party notification clause. It may be worth a short appointment with an attorney to have it and a notification letter drafted.
So what if there’s no letter, it’s the middle of January, and the tenant is so far behind the heat is shut off? Won’t the pipes freeze and burst, causing thousands of dollars in damage?
Not to worry. In Minnesota, which is a cold weather state, if the tenant has filed for the cold weather rule, Xcel will not disconnect any electricity involved in a heating system between October 15 and April 15.
The same holds true for Centerpoint; again, provided the tenant has applied for the cold weather rule exception. If they have not, Centerpoint will disconnect the gas, but during the winter months will notify the landlord of such with or without a third party notification letter. In the summer months, however, it’s important to note that Centerpoint does require a third party notification letter.
Excellent question!



Comments Off on Eight Ways To Screen Prospective Tenants for Your Minneapolis/St Paul Duplex

checkOne of the biggest challenges landlords face is finding great tenants who not only pay their rent on time, but also take care of your property, communicate with you and are generally respectful.

Most landlords run a credit and criminal background check on any prospective tenant through companies like the locally based ASP Screening.  The applicant must give you written permission to gather this information; which can be achieved by using MHA‘s standard application.

For a nominal fee, usually about $20, these companies can almost immediately provide you with an individual’s complete credit report and a state by state criminal record. It is common to ask an applicant for this processing fee up front. This accomplishes several things: it proves they are serious, tends to weed people out who know their past is suspect, and reimburses your expense.

While these reports are useful, they often don’t contain invaluable information like evictions? Why? In Minnesota, the court costs of filing an eviction notice, then having it reported to the credit bureaus is hundreds of dollars. As a result, landlords often offer incentives for a delinquent tenant to vacate the property. Carrots they dangle include not reporting the rent delinquency to the credit bureaus, leaving the renter’s record clean and the next property owner they rent from exposed.

In addition to these reports, it’s imperative to call as many of the tenant’s previous landlords as possible, their employer, and any references you can procure outside of family members. After all, no matter how difficult anyone’s son or sister may be, family ties are always stronger than the most airtight of leases.

While all of these efforts are scientific,  it’s also a good idea, on occasion, to trust your gut. I had once had an applicant who, while everything checked out, seemed off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and by law, couldn’t reject him “just because” (or discriminate against him in any way). So I Googled him. Turns out he took a butcher knife to his family in a state I didn’t pull a criminal background check in.

Finally, there’s a new way to screen for all of the things that don’t show up via conventional means. KPIC, a CBS affiliate station in Roseburg, Oregon, recently reported on a new web site where landlords can share all the intangibles on undesirable tenants. For a subscription fee of about $30, lets you search for reports of an applicant trashing a place, was noisy, or exhibited any other sort of undesirable behavior.

This site also affords you an opportunity to report tenants whose behavior was unacceptable while living in your property.

While this site seems as if it could potentially be libellous, it does require the landlord be able to provide documentation of any incendiary events.

No system is perfect. But these are good places to start.

Change the Numbers When You Rent Your Twin Cities Duplex

said on July 7th, 2008 categorized under: Tenants

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Security DepositOne of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a landlord is to make sure that the amount I charge for a security or damage deposit is a different amount than the monthly rent. This helps tenants understand that it is, in fact, for something other than the rent.

I can’t even count the number of times tenants have given me proper notice, then not paid the last month’s rent. When I approach them for it, the answer is always the same, “just take it out of my security deposit.”

That would be fine if I knew with certainty that the place will be left clean and in impeccable condition. Most of the time, it’s not. And if I’ve allowed the security deposit to be used in lieu of rent, I’m forced to pay for any repairs for damages caused by the tenant out of pocket. In order to be reimbursed, I then need to pursue the matter in court.

Simply making the amount different than the rent, along with offering a clear explanation that it may not be used for rent, helps prevent this misunderstanding.